My Beloved ’80s Brands

Esprit and The Limited are talking again to my generation. Are others listening?
Posted June 23, 2010

I took a walk down memory lane a few weeks ago when the Retail Design Institute’s Ohio Chapter held its monthly meeting at The Limited’s new headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. There in the hallway was a glass-enclosed case holding a collection of merchandise bearing the tag “Outback Red.” Oh my, suddenly I was in grade school, shopping at the mall, trying on shirts with tags on the outside of the collar and shirt tails that hung down to my knees in back. Let’s not even get started on the shaker-knit sweaters with the double v-necks. Holy ’80s fashion statements.

And the good news (well, for some of us): The Limited is bringing back the Outback Red label in an effort to celebrate its heritage. The brand, which was sold off from Limited Brands to Sun Capital Partners in 2007 (and turned a profit in 2009, for the first time in a decade), aims to strengthen its appeal to fashionable, budget-conscious women in their 30s. Update a label that I so fondly wore in my youth? Sure, you’ve got me in your store, ready to buy.

But that’s just the tip of the “brands-that-rocked-the-eighties” iceberg. Esprit opened a flagship this spring in New York that heralds the apparel giant’s return to prominence. The store environment is modern, with rich materials and moody lighting. And there on the wall are the letters I always wanted on a sweatshirt (the one with different colored letters). Esprit was an “it” brand back in the day, and with its refreshed stores and ongoing expansion, it’s hoping that story will continue.

This all seems to fall in line with a trend the The New York Times discussed recently about brands bringing back last century’s styles to comfort shoppers and get them to open their wallets. Jantzen has reintroduced a halter bikini modeled on a pin-up-girl style sold in the 1940s, while L.L. Bean’s “Signature” collection includes wrap skirts and hunting jackets from the 1940s and 1950s.

The eighties aren’t so old, but certainly full of nostalgia for many. Will other brands from the decade heed the calling? Who votes for a return of Chess King, Swatch or Op? Vans and Capezio, are you listening? You once held a place in the fashion universe. Are you ready to make a statement again?